M2 is a rich compact globular cluster at the edge of naked eye visibility that's located in the constellation of Aquarius. It's an easy binocular object (mag. +6.3) but requires a dark site with extremely good seeing conditions to be spotted with the naked eye.

M2 was discovered on September 11, 1746 by French astronomer Jean-Dominique Maraldi while observing a comet with Jacques Cassini, the son of legendary Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini. Charles Messier then rediscovered it exactly 14 years later. He described the cluster, like many of his other objects, as "a nebula without any stars associated with it". William Herschel was the first to resolve individual stars in 1783.

Finding M2 can be initially challenging as it's located in a relatively sparsely populated area of sky. The key is to locate the two brightest stars in Aquarius, Sadalsuud (β Aqr - mag. +2.90) and Sadalmelik (α Aqr - mag. +2.95). Sadalsuud is positioned 10 degrees southwest of Sadalmelik and located 5 degrees north of Sadalsuud is M2. Together the two stars and the globular cluster form a large right-angled triangle.

M2 straddles the celestial equator and is therefore visible from all over the World, although it appears higher in the sky when viewed from tropical latitudes. It's best seen between July and October.

Messier 2 globular cluster by Hubble Space Telescope (credit:- NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI))

Finder Chart for M2 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M2 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Through 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars, M2 appears obviously non-stellar like an out of focus star. A small 80mm (3.1-inch) telescope at high powers reveals a bright centre surrounded by a small fuzzy halo in an otherwise barren field of view. Close by is a pair of 6th/7th magnitude white stars that point almost directly towards the globular.

A medium size 200mm (8-inch) telescope will resolve some of the outer stars of which the brightest are of mag. +13.1. Higher magnifications certainly help, although the globular doesn't quite have the wow factor of M13 and other great southern clusters, it's still an impressive sight. Larger scopes of the order of 300mm (12-inch) or greater reveal many stars scattered across the complete face. It also appears elliptical in shape with a peculiar dark lane that crosses the north-east edge.

As Messier globulars go, M2 is relatively distant at 37,500 light-years. However, it's intrinsically large and therefore despite the distance covers a respectable 16 arc minutes of apparent sky. The cluster is estimated to be 13,000 million years old and contains about 150,000 stars.

M2 Data Table

Object TypeGlobular cluster
Distance (light-years)37,500
Apparent Mag.+6.3
RA (J2000)21h 33m 29s
DEC (J2000)-00d 49m 23s
Apparent Size (arc mins)16 x 16
Radius (light-years)87
Age (years)13 Billion
Number of Stars150,000

Sky Highlights - March 2017

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak now visible with binoculars as it heads towards perihelion

Mercury heading towards greatest elongation east

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for March 2017

Northern Hemisphere
West:- Venus (mag. -4.8 to -4.1 - first half of month), Mars (mag. +1.3 to +1.5), Uranus (mag. +5.9), Mercury (mag. -1.5 to -0.4 - second half of month)
Southeast:- Jupiter (mag. -2.3 to -2.5)
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.5)

Southern Hemisphere
West:- Venus (first half of month), Mars, Uranus
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
West:- Jupiter
Northeast:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +8.0 - second half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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